Monthly Archives: October 2019

The Legacy of the Tree of All Knowledge

Image result for pomegranate tree
by Rabbi Dan Moskovitz

One Yom Kippur, a rabbi was warning his congregation about the fragility of life.
“One day everyone in this congregation is going to die,” he thundered from the bimah.
Seated in the front row was an elderly woman who laughed out loud when she heard this.
Irritated, the rabbi said, “What’s so funny?”
“Well!” she said, “I’m not a member of this congregation.”

Membership and affiliation aside, the most important lesson we learn in life is that one day it will end: one day we are going to die. That is the great lesson and gift of this week’s parashah, B’reishit with its iconic tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Amidst all the lush greenery, flowing rivers, and natural beauty of the garden, at its center stood two trees. All of the trees and their fruits were permitted to human beings as food, except for the Tree of All Knowledge and the Tree of Life. We read:

God Eternal then commanded the man, saying, “You may eat all you like of every tree in the garden — but of the Tree of All Knowledge you may not eat, for the moment you eat of it you shall be doomed to die.”(Gen. 2:16-17)

When they eat from the Tree of All Knowledge, the knowledge they get is that one day they are going to die. Before the forbidden fruit, they didn’t even know death was part of the equation. Now they know and it scares them — to death. They like the garden: life there is beautiful, they don’t want it to end, and standing right next to the Tree of All Knowledge is the answer to their anxiety — the Tree of Life. One bite from that fruit and they will live forever. This terrifies God. We read:

God Eternal then said, “Look, the humans are like us, knowing all things. Now they may even reach out to take fruit from the Tree of Life and eat, and live forever!” So the Eternal God drove them out of the Garden of Eden to work the soil from which they had been taken. (Gen. 3:22-23)

God kicks them out of the Garden of Eden — not as punishment, but as a blessing: If they think they will never die then how will they truly live? If you have eternity then there is no urgency for anything; with unlimited tomorrows, everything can wait.

The German existentialist Martin Heidegger, in his masterwork Being and Time, taught this: he said that in order to truly live authentically we have to confront death head-on. In other words, knowing that I am going to die is what allows me to truly live. Heidegger wrote:

“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life — and only then will I be free to become myself.”  (Heidegger)

But as Ernest Becker wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork, The Denial of Death, even though we objectively know that we are all going to die, we don’t actually believe what we know to be true. Becker’s work is important because of his astute observation that our obsession with not dying actually gets in the way of our fully living. We are so focused on outwitting, outlasting, and outplaying death, staying in our own Garden of Eden, that we make amazingly selfish choices in life. We set up what Becker calls “immortality systems” — non-rational belief structures that give way to the belief that we are immortal.

For example, we try to buy immortality by accumulating possessions and wealth, as if our things will somehow protect us when death comes knocking. We take on heroic roles in our business or our household: we think that if we make ourselves indispensable, death can’t touch us. “I can’t die this week; I have a sales meeting on Thursday.”

Judaism suggests a different approach to death and to life. Rather than deny death, Jewish tradition instructs us to embrace it. Judaism teaches that we should live each day as if it is our last because we don’t know, it very well may be (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 153a).

Imagine, as God does in this parashah, if human beings directed all the energy they focus on not dying toward the more sacred goal of truly living. How would you fill each moment of every day if you truly knew and understood that you will never get that moment back once it has passed is gone forever? The psalmist declares:

“The span of our life is seventy years, or given the strength, eighty years; …  and they pass by speedily and we are in darkness; Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may attain a wise heart” (Psalm 90:10, 12).

The wise person, our Rabbis teach, counts each day and makes each day count. Knowing that our days are numbered helps us clarify our priorities and our purpose. Our most precious possession is not money or things: you can always get more of those. No, our most precious and finite possession is time.

Henry David Thoreau wrote:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately … I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life, and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.” (Thoreau, Walden [reissue ed., Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2016])

When Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, the Torah records the very first thing they do. “And Adam knew his wife Eve and she bore him a son” (Gen. 4:1). They have a child: the very realization of “I’m not going to live forever” is answered with our best attempt at immortality — progeny.

And so, a final question remains. Where is the true paradise? Is it in the Garden of Eden where no one ever dies and time is limitless? Or is it East of Eden, outside the garden, where every moment is precious, every decision is life changing, and the fruit, sometimes bitter, compels us to appreciate the sweet?

Rabbi Dan Moskovitz is senior rabbi at Temple Sholom in Vancouver, BC, and author of “The Men’s Seder” (MRJ Publishing). Rabbi Moskovitz is also chair of the Reform Rabbis of Canada. His writing and perspective on Judaism appear in major print and digital media internationally. 

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Posted by on October 20, 2019 in Uncategorized


How Adam and Eve Made Peace With Abel’s Murder

by Rabbi Menachem Feldman

The first portion of the Torah begins with pristine beauty.

The serenity was short lived

The creation of a graceful, peaceful world, culminating with the creation of the day of rest, as the Torah describes:

And G‑d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day. Now the heavens and the earth were completed and all their host. And G‑d completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did. And G‑d blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, for thereon He abstained from all His work that G‑d created to do.1

Alas, the serenity was short lived.

We turn just a few pages and we read of successive disasters. Adam and Eve taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, internalizing both good and evil, thus implanting within themselves an inclination to evil, creating a constant struggle within the human heart between the G‑dly soul and the animalistic soul.

We read about Adam and Eve being told of their mortality. At the end of their lives, they would return to the earth. They understood that it would take death for the evil and good within them to separate. The body and the evil inclination would return to the earth, and the soul would return heavenward, to G‑d.

We then read of the first murder in history. We read about

They were comforted

how Adam and Eve had to face a double tragedy; the murder of their son Abel, as well as coming to face with the fact that their son Cain was capable of murdering his own brother.

The Midrash relates that Adam and Eve wept beside the corpse of Abel, unsure what to do with the body because this was their first encounter with death. The Midrash continues: they saw a bird (araiv in the Hebrew) burying a dead bird in the ground. Adam and Eve decided to do the same and buried Abel in the earth.

On the surface, this Midrash explains how they found a solution to the technical question of how to dispose of the corpse. On a deeper level, however, this Midrash contains profound insight into the human condition.

Adam and Eve were at a loss, not only about what to do with Abel’s body, but they had a much deeper question: how to respond to absolute evil? How could they continue to live after witnessing the depravity of which humanity was capable?

True, they too had sinned. They too had been condemned to natural death. They too were not perfect. But they could never have imagined that a human being could act so brutally, that one human being could or would afflict an unnatural death upon another human being. They could not imagine that a person could act in a way that was the polar opposite of what G‑d had intended.

G‑d therefore sent the bird to teach Adam and Eve how to respond to absolute evil. According to the Sages, the araiv is terribly cruel toward its young, abandoning its offspring at birth. Adam and Eve witnessed this same bird engaging in the truest form of kindness. The Sages2 explain that burial is referred to in the Torah3 as “loving kindness and truth,” because when doing kindness with a living person the doer can always expect a favor in return. Not so with burial. When we are kind to the dead, we do not expect anything in return. Thus, the kindness is absolute. The kindness is true kindness.

Adam and Eve looked at the araiv and understood. They received the wisdom on how to react. They now understood that the response to absolute evil is absolute kindness. True, evil must be stopped and contained, but the remedy to absolute depravity within humanity is absolute love and compassion.

They were comforted.

They were comforted, because they now understood that the

When we are kind to the dead, we do not expect anything in return

profundity of evil that the human is capable of is matched only by the profound kindness within the human spirit.

They understood that the same human heart capable of boundless hate is likewise capable of boundless love.

We, too, must take this message to heart. We look around the world and see intense cruelty. We know that we must respond with intense kindness. Like Adam and Eve, we understand that this earth is a complicated place, that humanity is capable of extremes. Like Adam and Eve, we respond to negativity with a greater commitment to absolute kindness. When we face unspeakable cruelty, we take a step toward extreme kindness, bringing us closer and closer to G‑d’s vision of a perfect world. A peaceful world. A world that experiences the tranquility of the seventh day. The tranquility of Shabbat.4

1. Genesis 1:31 – 2:3.
2. See Rashi to Genesis 47:29.
3. Genesis 47:29.
4. Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Reshimot, booklet 25.

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Posted by on October 19, 2019 in Uncategorized


When the 4 species of Sukkot create a symphony

Image result for 4 species of sukkot
by Rabbi Ari Segal

Given the value of diversity and unity within Judaism, how do we transcend our tendency to exclude those who are different from ourselves?

There’s an idea we’ve likely all heard so many times that it almost seems cliché. The midrash (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana #28) compares each of the arba minim – the four species taken together in blessing on Sto a different type of Jew. Each year we pick up our lulav (palm branch), etrog  (citron), hadasim  (myrtle), and aravot (willow), and we are reminded that each represent a different type of Jew and we bring them all together in a sign of unity.

So beautiful, but isn’t this obvious? Why did we need the midrash to make this point, and what is the psychology behind the struggle?

We have a tendency to exclude some Jews from our arba minim. Of course, we would never be guilty of sinat chinam — baseless hated — the Jews we hate deserve it! All kidding aside… In the abstract, we are comfortable with, and even supportive of, the notion of achdut, unity. Practically, however, those we dislike are always excluded, somehow.

There is an apocryphal story about a Jew standing on line to buy tickets at an amusement park. He looks to the front of the line and sees an ultra-Orthodox Jew there with his family. The man looks like he is trying to get some kind of special deal. Anger starts to well up inside of the Jew on line. He thinks to himself: “Look at that guy — his kids are noisy, everyone dressed shabbily, he has his meek wife just sitting there, and he is trying to negotiate some kind of special deal. What an embarrassment to the Jewish people!” He decides to say something, and, as the man finishes his purchase and turns to go into the amusement park with his family, the Jew looks him in the eye and says “You know, you are supposedly so Godly, but the way you act is a hilul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.” The ultra-Orthodox man looks stunned and responds, “Sir, I don’t know what you are upset about. I and my family are Amish and we are just here to enjoy the amusement park.” The Jew starts stammering and apologizes profusely for his mistake. “The Amish are a remarkable people and it is really honorable that you live such a humble life and choose to separate yourselves from so much of the world.”

Freud refers to disagreements with those who are close to us as “the narcissism of small differences.” It is the tendency to dig in even deeper in our positions when those we are dealing with are connected to us.

Without the midrash, we might exclude some folks from the “Arba Minim”:

  • Some would look with disdain towards Jews who embrace Tikun Olam and ignore ritual.
  • Some look with contempt at those who embrace Torah and halakha and ignore a larger vision of Tikun Olam or egalitarianism.
  • Some would look at those who do neither — but instead embrace the rich cultural history of Judaism — as less than or incomplete.

The belief on the part of individuals and groups that he or she or they are in sole possession of the truth is a very natural feeling. But to create an “us,” we must then create a “them” and that excludes. This is not surprising in some ways. Religious beliefs are not held lightly – they are at the very core of my identity and speak to my belief about the Ultimate truth in the world. It would seem to follow that if I am right, then you must be wrong. Our tendency to exclude those who are different seems to get stronger as we get closer to members.

Back to the message of the midrash – what is the value of diversity and unitywithin Judaism? How do we transcend our natural tendency to leave people out of our arba minim?

Allow me to share a hava amina — an idea that I have. In the Talmud, not all hava aminas are accepted but all are considered seriously and maybe this hava amina can help us appreciate and understand the larger role of hava aminas in general.

Rabbi Menachem ben Solomon Meiri, author of the Beit HaBechira, famously presented a radical notion of dignity regarding other faiths. He calls Christians, and people of all religions, “”גדורים בדרכי הדת” — those who follow a life of morality and ethics as directed by their faith, and says quite forcefully that they are not idolators. In the world of the Meiri, just as Jews must be true to their faith, non-Jews who serve their God righteously are not to be condemned – rather, Christianity is right for Christians, Islam is right for Muslims, etcetera.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks similarly argued in his work, “The Dignity of Difference,” that Judaism believes in the notion and validity of paths other than our own. He writes:

“In the course of history, God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims.” And continues later on in the book “Can I, a Jew, hear the echoes of God’s voice in that of a Hindu or Sikh or Christian or Muslim or in the words of an Eskimo from Greenland speaking about a melting glacier? Can I do so and feel not diminished but enlarged?”

Perhaps we now have a blueprint for considering other viewpoints within the Jewish community.

Perhaps the midrash teaches us that each of these groups are a part of our arba minim because they are each an integral component to our Jewish existence.

  • You might disagree deeply with the ultra-Orthodox, but their passion, devotion, and willingness to sacrifice is inspiring.
  • You might hate that there are Jews who only focus on Tikkun Olam and seem to treat halacha with less than reverence, but we must appreciate that the rabbis and congregations that do so make a “kiddush Hashem” (reflect well on the Jewish people) with so many non-Jews and Jews alike who see Godliness through repairing the world, progressive politics, and universalism.
  • The same can be said for those who identify as cultural Jews. Consider Einstein, Herzl, Freud, Trostky and more. They were cultural Jews, and their contributions to the world at large undeniably serve as a massive kiddush Hashem.

Moreover, this phenomenon of differences among people is not a bug in the code of creation, but an essential feature. As we are told in the Mishna in the fourth chapter of Sanhedrin, this is part of God’s transcendent greatness: “to proclaim the greatness of the Holy Blessed One; for humans stamp many coins with one seal and they are all like one another; but the King of kings, the Holy Blessed One, has stamped every human with the seal of the first man, yet not one of them are like another.”

As Rabbi Sacks beautifully puts it: “Difference is the source of value, and indeed of society itself. It is precisely because we are not the same as individuals, nations or civilizations that our exchanges are non-zero-sum encounters. Because each of us has something someone else lacks, and we each lack something someone else has, we gain by interaction.”

Not only must we recognize that we ourselves are not in the sole possession of all truth, as we are taught in Pirkei Avot – “who is wise? He who learns from others” – we must also recognize that we need all types of Jews to fulfill our mandate to be a light unto the nations.

And we need all types of Judaism to allow all types of Jews to find the voice of Hashem in their own way – and to share the beauty and wisdom of our people and our story with the world.

Which leads me back to “hava aminas,” those initial ideas we have and share.

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, in the introduction to his Aruch HaShulchan on Choshen Mishpat, explains that the Torah is compared to a song. The Torah is a shira, he explains, because like a song, it is improved when you have different voices, instruments, harmonies and melodies. We preserve the hava amina, we include all of the voices, all of the initial thoughts, all of the unfounded conclusions, because each of them they are the harmonies and melodies in the corpus of Torah. Each of us — our own etrog and whomever you envision as the hadasim, aravot and lulav — are the symphony of Jewish life.

About the Author Rabbi Ari Segal is Head of School at Shalhevet High School, in California.

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Posted by on October 19, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Torah Is a Way to See the World

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by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

When I was Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, I had wonderful friendships with other religious leaders, not least the two Archbishops of Canterbury during my tenure. This was part of a profound healing that has taken place between Jews and Christians in the post-Holocaust era, after many centuries of estrangement and worse. We respected our differences, but we worked together on the things that mattered to both of us, from climate change to the alleviation of poverty.

On one occasion, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, made a curious request. “We are embarking on a year of reading the Bible. Do you think you might do something similar within the Jewish community?” “Of course,” I replied. “We do it every year. There’s only one word we might find problematic.” “Which word is that?” he asked. “The word ‘reading,’” I said. “We never simply read the Bible. We study it, interpret it, interpret other interpretations, argue, question, debate. The verb ‘reading’ does not quite do justice to the way we interact with the Torah. It is usually more active than that.”

I might have added that even the phrase keriat ha-Torah, which is usually taken to mean reading the Torah, probably does not mean that at all. Keriat ha-Torah, properly understood, is a performative act. It is a weekly recreation of the revelation at Mount Sinai. It is a covenant ratification ceremony like the one Moshe performed at Sinai: “Then he took the book of the covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’” (Ex. 24: 7). And it is like the covenant renewal ceremony celebrated by Ezra after the return from Babylon, as described in Nehemiah 8-9.

Keriah in this sense does not mean reading in the modern sense of sitting in an armchair with a book. It means declaring, proclaiming, establishing, and making known the law. It is like what happens in the British Parliament when the bill gets its final ‘reading,’ that is, it’s ratification.

So the Torah isn’t something we merely read. It involves total engagement. And what has made that engagement possible is the rabbinic concept of Midrash. Midrash as I understand it (there are, of course, other ways) was the rabbinic response to the end of prophecy. So long as there were prophets — until the time of Haggai, Zecharia, and Malachi — they brought the word of God to their generation. They heard it; they declared it; the Divine word lived within the currents and tides of history.

But there came a time when there were no more prophets. How then could Jews bridge the gap between the word then and the historical situation now? It was an immense crisis, and different groups of Jews responded in different ways. The Sadducees, as far as we can tell, confined themselves to the literal text. For them, the Torah did not renew itself generation after generation. It had been given once and that was enough.

Other groups, including those we know from the Dead Sea Scrolls, developed a kind of Biblical exegesis known as Pesher. There is a surface meaning of the text, but there is also a hidden meaning that often has to do with events or people in the present, or the end of days, that were assumed to be coming soon.

The rabbis, however, developed the technique of midrash that by close reading could give us insight into specifics of Jewish law (midrash halakhah) or details of Biblical narrative that are missing from the text (midrash Aggadah). So powerful was this form of engagement that the single greatest institution of rabbinic Judaism is named after it: the Bet Midrash, the “house” or “home” of midrash.

Essentially, midrash is the bridge across the abyss of time between the world of the original text, 30 to 40 centuries ago, and our world in the present of time and place. Midrash asks not “What did the text mean then?” but rather, “What does the text mean to me-here-now?” Behind midrash are three fundamental principles of faith.

First, the Torah is God’s word, and just as God transcends time, so does His word. It would be absurd, for instance, to suppose some human being more than 3,000 years ago could have foreseen smart phones, social media, and being online, on-call, 24/7. Yet Shabbat speaks precisely to that phenomenon and to our need for a digital detox once a week. God speaks to us today in the unsuspected inflections of words he spoke 33 centuries ago.

Second, the covenant between God and our ancestors at Mount Sinai still holds today. It has survived the Babylonian exile, the Roman destruction, centuries of dispersion, and the Holocaust. The Torah is the text of that covenant, and it binds us still.

Third, the principles underlying the Torah have changed very little in the intervening centuries. To be sure, we no longer have a Temple or sacrifices. We no longer practice capital punishment. But the values that underlie the Torah are strikingly relevant to contemporary society and to our individual lives in the 21st-century secular time.

So, we don’t merely read the Torah. We bring to it our time, our lives, our most attentive listening, and our deepest existential commitments. My own beliefs have been formed in that ongoing conversation with the biblical text that is part of the Jewish mind and the Jewish week. Which is why, to emphasize this personal engagement, I’ve decided to call this year’s series of my Covenant & Conversation articles, “I Believe,” as a way of saying, this is how I have come to see the world, having listened as attentively as I can to the Torah and its message for me-here-now.

The Torah is not a systematic treatise about beliefs, but a unique way of seeing the world and responding to it. And in an age of moral darkness, its message still shines. So, at any rate, I believe. May it be a year of learning and growing for us all.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. The author of over 30 books, he can be followed on social media @RabbiSacks or at

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Posted by on October 17, 2019 in Uncategorized


Simchat Torah: A Final Dose of Joy that Cures Bipolar Disorder

File:Solomon Alexander Hart - The Feast of the Rejoicing of the Law at the Synagogue in Leghorn, Italy - Google Art Project.jpg

Jonah’s Turbulent Voyage[1]

As mentioned in our previous article on Sukot, the Prophet Jonah received his prophecy in merit of his exuberant joy during the water-drawing celebrations in the Temple.[2] However, the prophecy he received threw him into a flight of manic depression as we will see from the wording of the verses:

Initially, God told him to continue on his upward rise, telling him, “Rise and go to the great city of Ninveh,” and indeed, Jonah seems to respond in kind, “And Jonah rose…”[3] However, it immediately became apparent that Jonah’s spiritual high did not have enough force to elevate him any further, “And Jonah rose to flee from before God, and he descended to Jaffo.” In fact, the verb “descend” (ירד) appears twice more in the first verses of the book of Jonah, closely followed by the verb “fall asleep” (לְהִירָדֵם). This suggests a further attempt to descend into oblivion, especially considering that “descend” (ירד) and “fall asleep” (לְהִירָדֵם) share the same two-letter root (רד)! In fact, the chapter continues with numerous appearances of the verbs “toss” (הטיל), as in, “And God tossed a great wind”[4] and “to cast [a lot]” (הפיל), as in “they cast lots,”[5] which suggest that Jonah himself was thrown into a tumultuous descent. Jonah later describes his own descent, from the stomach of the great fish that swallowed him alive in the ocean depths, “from the belly of the grave I cried out… And You cast me into the deep in the heart of the seas… the deep encompassed me… To the bottom of the mountains I descended… but You brought up my life from hell.”[6]

After Jonah’s heartfelt prayer, he began to rise once again, as God repeated His prophecy to him, “Rise and go to the great city of Ninveh.”[7] This time, Jonah, completed his mission, “And Jonah rose and went to Ninveh…”[8] However, having completed his mission, Jonah was once again thrown into emotional turbulence at the various events that God sent his way. Such was the extent of his psychological suffering that he even expressed a preference for death over life.[9]

Expressing Thanks for Triumphing over Bipolar

One verse in the Torah that expresses the sense of manic depression, or bipolar disorder, reflected in Jonah’s alternating states of consciousness is, “They rise up to the heavens and descend to the abyss.”[10] This verse appears in the psalm from which the sages learn the four types of individuals who should bring a thanksgiving offering to the Temple.[11] One of these four is someone who travels out to sea, and is saved from the danger of drowning when a storm breaks out.

The symbol of a ship rising and falling on a stormy ocean, in danger of breaking apart, is particularly relevant to the story of Jonah. He was in precisely such a situation! We associate this verse with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder because, as we have now seen; it appears that Jonah himself experienced a form of it.

Taking Off and Landing Safely

The final day of the festival of Sukot is Simchat Torah, when our joy reaches its climax. Unrestrained by the confines of the sukah, and unhindered by the limits set by any particular mitzvah, we express our love of God by dancing with His Torah in pure, unadulterated elation.

On Simchat Torah, we have the opportunity to elevate ourselves from the mundane by our own efforts,[12] symbolized by raising our legs above the ground in dance. Yet, just as when we dance we land safely back on earth, so too after Simchat Torah we land safely back in reality once more. Simchat Torah lets us experience the greatest of spiritual highs in purity and holiness.

Even though Simchat Torah manifests a higher form of joy than the previous days of the festival of Sukot, it is all amidst the backdrop of the Days of Awe. The message of Simchat Torah then is that we can reach extreme highs and lows without becoming manic or depressive. In contrast to the adverse effects of bipolar disorder, the entirety of Sukot represents the holy version of bipolarity. Since Simchat Torah allows us to safely achieve extreme highs, this day of the year represents the ultimate cure and remedy for the profane and unhealthy version of bipolar disorder chronicled in the annals of psychology.

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Posted by on October 14, 2019 in Uncategorized


Tenth for a minyan

Photo: Illustrative, adapted from pixel2013, Pixabay
by Shira Pasternak Be’eri
I know I don’t count to make the quorum for Orthodox prayer,
but it hits me differently as I stand waiting for the men to arrive

It was an ordinary Saturday night in Jerusalem. As three stars twinkled in the inky sky and the west winds wound their way up the hills of Arnona, the prospects of assembling ten men for the evening prayers seemed dim. We stood on the sidewalk, under a streetlamp, waiting for the outdoor minyan to form. Under normal circumstances, the lack of a quorum would not concern me. In fact, under normal circumstances, I would not have been at the evening service at all. But I am saying kaddish for my father this year, and according to Orthodox Jewish law, the Aramaic mourner’s prayer cannot be said unless there is a minyan of at least ten men.

Six… seven… It was substantially past the designated start time, and the ranks were still lacking. As an eighth man arrived, I realized that if one more man were to come, I would be face-to-face with the reality that I, as a woman, do not count toward the formation of a prayer quorum. It’s not a situation that I encounter in my regular synagogue; there are always enough men there when I arrive for services. But it is a situation that I would prefer to avoid.

The moment took me back five years, to August of 2014, when Rabbi Benny Lau, then the rabbi of the Orthodox Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem, wrote a Hebrew post on Facebook describing a similar situation of waiting for a quorum, but from the other side of the mechitza:

It’s an ordinary weekday morning. Six a.m. at the Ramban synagogue in Jerusalem. Nine worshippers are waiting for a tenth man for a minyan. It’s a common crisis in mid-August. After a minute, the tenth man arrives, and the prayer leader begins the service. It’s just another insignificant event, which shouldn’t make the slightest impression on anyone.

Except that in the women’s section, there was a young woman who had come to pray. During that moment, while we were waiting for the tenth man, I looked at her from my place in the synagogue and cringed. How does it feel to see but not be seen? What is it like to watch people being counted but not be counted?

I went over to the woman and shared my feelings. She smiled. “It’s okay,” she said. “I’m used to it.” She had not come to be provocative, and no one paid particular attention to her. I am the only one who has been carrying the incident around with me all day.

I don’t want to change the rules of the club by doing something drastic, and I have no intention of doing so. I believe in deep, internal processes that are underway in society in general and in the religious community in particular. Our synagogue and its congregants have chosen to be part of a religious community that does not uproot accepted Jewish law, as many others do. But I think that at a minimum, we have the responsibility to express the frustration created by this reality.

Participating in a minyan is an enormous privilege for anyone who wants to fulfill the mitzvah of “and I will be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel.” This summer [when Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach were kidnapped and murdered], we have been privileged to see tens of mothers who sanctified the name of God in an inspiring way. I hope that we will learn to create living spaces in which women will be leading partners in religious life.

The most important rulings of Jewish law are not issued by local rabbis (myself included). Our job is to raise and to report the questions that come up in the field and to create dynamic movement that connects the Torah and its leaders with life in the world.

In my circles, Rav Benny’s post was met with gratitude. Many women in my community can relate to the feeling of being committed yet cringing, of continuing to play by the rules of Orthodox Jewish law, while at the same time being frustrated by the inequality that characterizes some of its practices. We are Jewishly educated enough to know why we are not counted in a minyan. We are familiar with the biblical derivations that deem a prayer community to be made up of men, we know that women are exempt from positive time-bound commandments and are therefore not obligated to participate in public prayer, and we understand that differing levels of obligation preclude women and men from being counted together.

We also know that there are differences between men and women (although it is not always clear to us which are due to nature and which are due to nurture), and we understand that our role as mothers sometimes precludes our participation in communal prayer (although we may wonder why women aren’t obligated or encouraged to participate in public prayer at times in their lives when they do not have competing demands of child-rearing). Similarly, we know that we are said to have intrinsic spirituality that makes it unnecessary for us to perform certain mitzvot (although many of us don’t actually feel that spiritual connection). And there is no need to remind us — as often happens when the question of counting women in a minyan is raised — that there is not complete equality in Judaism, even among men, and that a man who is not a priest cannot recite the priestly blessing, no matter how much he may want to. We know. We accept.

And yet.

My generation of women grew up in a world in which many of the assumptions about the roles of men and women found in traditional Jewish texts have changed. We work to support our families, and our husbands share childcare, cooking, and household chores with us. We studied for advanced degrees, were encouraged to engage in any profession we desired, and watched as glass ceilings were shattered and fell away. But throughout, our religious lives have been characterized by an impenetrable mechitza that keeps us separate but not necessarily equal. In most Orthodox synagogues, while men serve as rabbis and cantors, lead the prayer service, open the ark, carry the Torah, chant the Torah portion and haftarah reading, bless the congregation with the priestly blessing, and deliver the sermon, our involvement in the proceedings is limited to reciting our own prayers and singing — not too loudly — along with the service. Often the only active, participatory role that women play in the communal aspect of synagogue ritual is lobbing candies over a separation barrier at boys or men celebrating life events, or setting up food for the kiddush that follows the services. The disparity between the nature of our participation in secular society and in religious society is jarring.

So we may cringe when we find ourselves not counted for a minyan. We feel a pang when we find ourselves celebrating a new marriage at sheva brachot, in a room full of devout women with advanced degrees and strong backgrounds in Jewish texts, and a search party must be sent out to recruit a tenth for a minyan, returning with a 13-year-old boy who may or may not keep the mitzvot but qualifies as an adult male. And we squirm just a bit when someone carelessly says, “I need a tenth person” to enable the performance of a ritual, when in fact he means “a tenth man.” It’s easy to feel that you don’t count when you are not counted.

Is not being counted in a minyan the most troubling aspect of life as an Orthodox Jewish woman? Most definitely not; the plight of chained women has that dubious distinction. But Rav Benny’s post was welcomed because it’s affirming when an Orthodox rabbi, often seen as representative of the patriarchy, identifies with the challenges we face. It’s consoling when he sees our needs in the synagogue — a place where we are largely unseen, where we often have to lobby to see and hear, and where we may feel disenfranchised and disempowered. Even though Rav Benny was not prepared to take a revolutionary step and call for counting women in a quorum, his discomfort was comforting. Sometimes, it’s the thought that counts.

Standing on the pavement on Saturday night waiting for a ninth and tenth man to arrive, I remembered the one time when I was indeed counted as tenth for a prayer service. It was on a Shabbat morning at a partnership minyan in Zichron Yaakov, where I was visiting friends. In their congregation, while women are not counted as part of a quorum with men, the parts of the service that require a minyan are not said unless there are at least ten women parallel to the quorum of ten men. My hostess had set out in time for the beginning of services, but my day was off to a slower start. As I rounded the corner to the synagogue some 15 minutes later, a woman I recognized from the Friday night service was walking toward me. “Are you coming to us?” she asked. When I responded affirmatively, she replied: “Good, because we need a tenth woman so we can start.” We walked to the synagogue together, and as we entered the women’s section, as numbers nine and ten, the prayer leader recited Barchu. My being there made a difference.

Was I moved? Not particularly. Did I find it silly? Admittedly, a bit. But as I spend more and more time in synagogue during my kaddish year, virtually alone in the women’s section on weekdays and in a rather empty women’s section during most of the Shabbat services, I have begun to appreciate this partnership gesture. Perhaps if Orthodox shuls and schools were to require a quorum of women parallel to a quorum of men, there would be less of a disconnect between women and the synagogue. Perhaps if we were raised in such settings, women would come to synagogue in greater numbers, or come earlier, because we would feel that we count, even if it’s not technically for a minyan. Perhaps if we were counted, even in a symbolic way, it wouldn’t take kaddish to bring us into the synagogue on weekdays, because we would feel that we belong there and that our presence matters.

As I stood and wondered, waiting for our streetlamp minyan to form, my reverie was cut short by the addition of two more men. They arrived simultaneously, bringing us up to the required ten. By the time Barchu was recited, launching the service, we were 12 plus one.

I stood at a distance, behind the men, and recited the evening prayers. When I joined the other mourners in chanting kaddish, no one batted an eyelid. For, in contrast to the norms of the past, it is now common in Orthodox synagogues in South Jerusalem to see women saying kaddish during prayer services. Standing on the pavement, saying the last kaddish of the day, I was aware that I am part of the deep processes of evolutionary change that Rav Benny alluded to in his post, as are many women like me. We may not be counted as tenth for a minyan, but we surely count.

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Posted by on October 13, 2019 in Uncategorized


Haazinu – ¿Cuál es tu “Frecuencia”?

En la lectura de la semana pasada leemos como Moshé se dirige a los cielos y la tierra, convocándolos como testigos eternos para testimoniar lo que le está por decir al pueblo judío antes de fallecer.

“Escuchen cielos y hablaré y que la tierra oiga los pronunciamientos de mi boca.”

¿Por qué se dirige Moshé a los cielos con el verbo “escuchar” y a la tierra con el verbo “oír”? Nuestros sabios explican que el verbo Haazinu, “escuchar” implica escuchar de cerca mientras que el verbo “oír” implica oír a la distancia. Moshé, que estaba más cerca del cielo que de la tierra, empleaba el verbo que denota proximidad cuando se dirigía a los cielos y empleaba el verbo que denota distancia cuando se dirigía a la tierra.

Cielo y tierra a nivel personal

Cada hombre es un compuesto entre la dimensión celestial y la terrenal, entre lo espiritual y lo material. La diferencia entre una persona y otra es es el grado de proximidad que tiene a cada uno de las dos dimensiones. Hay quienes están más cerca de lo espiritual y hay quienes están más cerca de lo terrenal. Hay quienes aspiran a conectarse con la dimensión espiritual de la existencia y hay quienes aspiran a conectarse más con la dimensión material de la existencia.

Moshé estaba más cerca de lo espiritual que de lo material. La dimensión material de la existencia era para él nada más que una herramienta por medio de la cual posibilitar, expresar y plasmar lo espiritual.

¿Ejemplo a seguir?

¿Es Moshé un ejemplo para nosotros o una excepción, representando un ideal inalcanzable para la mayoría de nosotros (los de “a pie”)?

La pregunta se agudiza más cuando vemos que el profeta Isaías también se dirigía a los cielos y la tierra con los mismos términos que Moshé pero de una manera invertida: “Oyen cielos y escucha tierra”. Si para Isaías la tierra le era más cerca que los cielos, ¿qué nos queda a nosotros? ¿Qué podemos aprender de la manera en que Moshé se dirigía a los cielos y la tierra, de su relación con las dimensiones espirituales y terrenales de la existencia, si ni el profeta Isaías lo alcanzó?

¿Qué es superior?

Para poder responder a esta pregunta hace falta aclarar, primero: ¿Qué es superior, lo celestial o lo terrenal?

Si Ud. es lector asiduo de esta columna, seguramente habrá adivinado que la respuesta sería: “depende”.

Si bien todos estamos compuestos de alma y cuerpo, la pregunta es: ¿Somos un cuerpo que tiene un alma, o somos un alma que tiene un cuerpo?

Según la primera posibilidad lo principal en la vida sería la satisfacción física y personal y el alma vendría a cumplir la función de “batería” que vitaliza el cuerpo para que pueda funcionar. Según la segunda perspectiva es lo contrario. Somos el alma y el cuerpo es nada más que un vehículo por medio del cual el alma puede movilizarse e impactar el mundo físico.

Estudio y acción

El Talmud pregunta: ¿Qué es más importante, el estudio de la Torá o el cumplimiento de sus preceptos? La conclusión es que el estudio es más importante porque lleva a la acción. O sea, dedicarse al estudio y la sabiduría como un fin en sí mismo es un objetivo elevado pero incompleto, ya que el objetivo último sería expresar los conocimientos en el plano de la acción.

He aquí, entonces, la respuesta a la pregunta inicial, ¿cómo se supone que podemos aspirar a emularlo a Moshé si ni siquiera el profeta Isaías pudo lograrlo?

Moshé e Isaías representan dos valores y etapas en el desarrollo de cada uno de nosotros.

El primer objetivo en el camino del desarrollo personal debe ser aspirar a emular a Moshé, o sea que lo espiritual importe más que lo material. El segundo paso, y el verdadero objetivo, es el representado por Isaías: conquistar al mundo material y transformarlo en un vehículo por medio del cual se cumpla el plan Divino para lo cual el mundo haya sido creado.

La respuesta, entonces, a la pregunta de “¿cuál de los dos es más importante?” sería la siguiente: Lo espiritual es más elevado aunque lo material es más importante.

El resumen de toda la Torá

Con todo lo antedicho podemos explicar una historia curiosa en el Talmud.

El Talmud cuenta que había un gentil que quería convertirse en judío. Fue a consultar con el sabio Shamai y le planteó que quería convertirse con la condición de que le enseñara toda la Torá mientras estaba parado en un solo pie. Shamai lo echó.

Fue a plantear su propuesta al sabio Hillel, quien le contestó: No hagas a tu prójimo lo que no te gusta que te hagan a tí. El resto [de la Torá] es meramente comentario. Andá y estúdiala.

Hace falta entender: ¿Por que le dijo Hillel que el resumen de toda la Torá era amar al prójimo como a uno mismo si hay muchos preceptos en la Torá que no tienen nada que ver con el prójimo, como por ejemplo las leyes de Kósher, Mezuzá, Tefilín y Shabat?

En su libro fundacional de la filosofía de Jabad, el Rabí Schneur Zalman aborda esta pregunta por medio de otra: ¿Acaso es siquiera posible amar al prójimo como a uno mismo?

Responde, “depende”. Depende de si le damos más importancia al cuerpo o al alma. Para aquel que le da más importancia al cuerpo que al alma, es imposible amar al prójimo como a uno mismo ya que los cuerpos compiten entre sí por los mismos recursos. Lo que el otro come, no me llena el estómago a mí. En cuanto al alma, empero, todos compartimos la misma esencia espiritual. Somos todos “chispas” de la misma alma. Compartimos todos el mismo objetivo. Así que uno puede amar al prójimo como a sí mismo porque, efectivamente, es una extensión de él mismo.

El entrenamiento para poder lograr semejante perspectiva es por medio de las Mitzvot. Las Mitzvot nos acostumbran a relacionarnos con la dimensión espiritual de las cosas. La prueba para ver si realmente lo logramos es la manera en que nos relacionamos con el prójimo. ¿Lo vemos como una competencia o como una extensión?

El Gártel

Para concientizarnos de las dos tendencias que tenemos en nuestra relación con el mundo que nos rodea los jasidim utilizamos el Gártel (cinturón) cuando cumplen con una Mitzvá y especialmente cuando hacen Tefilá. El Gártel está puesto a la altura del diafragma para separar entre la parte superior del cuerpo (que contiene la cabeza y el corazón) que nos distingue de los animales y la parte inferior (que contiene los órganos de la digestión y la reproducción) que nos asemeja a ellos.

El concientizarnos de dichas dos dimensiones que poseemos nos ayuda optar por fortificar nuestra conexión con la dimensión superior para poder luego incursionar, canalizar y elevar la dimensión más importante, o sea la animal.

Aprovecho para desear a todos los lectores una Guemar Jatimá Tová.

Por Rav Eliezer Shem Tov

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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in Uncategorized


Espíritu y materia

Nuestras vidas tienden a estar divididas en espíritu y materia, en lo sagrado y lo cotidiano.

La dicotomía entre espíritu y materia, o entre el Cielo y la Tierra, también se expresa al principio de la lectura de la Torá de esta semana,1 Haazinu, que toma la forma de un largo poema. Moshé es el líder del pueblo judío y está lleno de amor por él, aunque también ve con dolor la historia larga y tortuosa que le tocará vivir. Les advierte sobre los errores que podrían llegar a cometer en su relación con Di-s. Con dramatismo, Moshé primero le habla al pueblo judío sobre el Cielo y la Tierra. Rashi nos cuenta que los llamaba como testigos de las palabras de advertencia que citamos a continuación.

Moshé dice: “Pon la oreja, Cielo, y hablaré; escucha, Tierra, las palabras de mi boca”.

El hebreo es una lengua profunda y poética, lo que hace difícil la traducción al español. Tiene matices que a veces el español no puede transmitir. Los Sabios comentan que la palabra haazinu, que se traduce como “poner la oreja” (ozen significa “oreja”) sugiere una cierta proximidad. Si hay alguien parado a tu lado, puedes hablarle al oído. Por contraste, la palabra que se traduce como “escucha” sugiere una distancia mayor, como si se llamara a alguien que está lejos.

Moshé usa el término más cercano cuando se refiere a los Cielos, y el más distante cuando habla de la Tierra. Los Sabios señalan que era una persona muy espiritual y que, por ende, en su caso los Cielos estaban muy cerca. Por contraste, en lo que a él respecta, la Tierra y todo lo material estaba más lejos.2

Ahora, ¿qué hay de nosotros? ¿La Torá revela este aspecto de Moshé sólo para impresionarnos con lo sagrado que era, o hay una enseñanza que también es relevante para nuestras vidas?

Existe la idea jasídica de que dentro de cada individuo del pueblo judío hay una chispa de Moshé.3 Es nuestro aspecto más profundo. En relación con este Moshé interno, también en nuestro caso, el Cielo está más cerca que la Tierra.

Un momento. ¿No es nuestra tarea como seres humanos y como judíos revelar la presencia de Di-s en el mundo? ¿Seguro tenemos que estar inmersos en las preocupaciones materiales de la vida cotidiana? La respuesta jasídica es: “sí, ¡pero no tienen que deprimirte!”. Por supuesto que estamos activos en el mundo. Pero al mismo tiempo tenemos una afinidad cercana con el Cielo. Por eso las palabras de Moshé tienen una relevancia directa para nosotros también. Estamos activos en el mundo pero, en un sentido más profundo, no nos limitamos a ello.4

Esta misma idea se expresa cuando se acerca la festividad de Sukot. La sucá representa nuestra casa y nuestra vida de todos los días. A la vez, es una esfera espiritual. Una de las enseñanzas de Sukot es que sí, estamos en un mundo material. Pero en cada momento tenemos el poder de hacerlo sagrado.

Notas al Pie

1. Devarim, cap. 32.2.

2. Sifrei.3.

3. Ver Tania cap. 42.4.

4. Adaptación libre de la disertación del rebe Lubavitcher en el shabat Haazinu en Torat Menachem 5750 vol. 1, p. 82 ff.

El Doctor Tali Loewenthal es conferencista en la Universidad de Espiritualidad Judía de Londres, director de la Unidad de Investigación de Jabad, y autor de Comunicándose con el Infinito: El surgimiento de la Filosofía de Jabad.

Según tomado de,

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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Sukkah, Rabbinic Law, and Jewish Survival

by Pini Dunner

Libyan Jews sit in a sukkah in Tripoli, c. 1920s. Photo: Yad Vashem

Unless you are an aficionado of Jewish law, the name “Pri Megadim” will mean very little to you.

Nonetheless, it happens to be the title of a very important work authored by Rabbi Joseph Teomim, an 18th-century rabbi from Lemberg, then a market town on the eastern limits of the Austro-Hungarian empire, now known as Lviv, in Western Ukraine.

Rabbi Teomim came from an extremely distinguished rabbinic family, and was a great rabbinic scholar in his own right, although he struggled to make a living as a rabbi. That all changed when he began to publish what would soon become one of the most influential works of Jewish law ever written.

The Pri Megadim primarily focuses on explaining and unpacking two earlier commentaries on the definitive halachic code, Shulchan Aruch — namely, Turei Zahav and Siftei Kohen — adding omitted information, and offering insights into the background and legal principles underpinning their views.

Rabbi Teomim thoroughly annotated these works, and in general offered a well-researched backdrop to the Jewish laws that they covered, so-much-so that his work became a mandatory study aid for anyone seeking formal ordination as a rabbi and any position of rabbinic authority.

All of this is by way of introduction to Rabbi Teomim’s fascinating halachic opinion regarding the supremacy of rabbinic law in Judaism, an opinion he illustrated via an obscure discussion about a sukkah.

According to the Pri Megadim, if the rabbis who established halachic guidelines mandated the performance of a Torah mitzvah in a particular way, telling us exactly how it should be performed, then the failure to meet these rabbinic requirements would totally negate the observance of the mitzvah, as if it was never performed, even if by Torah standards the mitzvah had actually been observed.

For example, he says, according to rabbinic law, if a sukkah is so small that one is forced to eat off a table that remains outside the sukkah, one has not discharged one’s sukkah obligation at all.

And although this stringency was only introduced by the rabbis, while Torah law considers such a sukkah fully kosher — since by eating in this sukkah one has disregarded a rabbinic law, according to Rabbi Teomim, one has not even fulfilled one’s Torah obligation.

Puzzlingly, this Pri Megadim seems to contradict at least one opinion in the Talmud. In tractate Sukkah (23a), Rabbi Meir is recorded as allowing a sukkah to be constructed on top of a live animal, while his perennial interlocutor Rabbi Yehudah does not.

The Talmud explains that this dispute centers on the verse (Deut. 16:13): חַג הַסֻכֹּת תַּעֲשֶֹה לְךָ שִבְעַת יָמִים — “you shall observe the festival of Sukkot for seven days” — namely, a sukkah must be available to use for the entire seven-day festival period.

In Rabbi Yehudah’s opinion, since one is not allowed to get onto an animal on Sabbath and festival days, a sukkah constructed on an animal’s back is not just invalid for the festival days and intermediate Shabbat, but for all seven days.

But Rabbi Meir disagrees; in his view, the prohibition of climbing onto an animal is only a rabbinic proscription, and you cannot undo a Torah obligation on the basis of a rabbinic disqualification.

On that basis, it would appear that according to Rabbi Yehudah, a rabbinic prohibition can negate the ability to observe a Torah law, in accordance with the view of the Pri Megadim, while Rabbi Meir’s opinion is that it does not.

And while the rabbis determined that in a halachic dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah, the law goes according to Rabbi Yehudah, it is strange that the Pri Megadim’s halachic principle seemingly contradicts this senior Talmudic sage, and he does not see fit to reconcile himself with Rabbi Meir’s opinion.

But actually, upon reflection, we can save the Pri Megadim from the indignity of this glaring blunder. It is possible that the rabbinic insistence on having a table inside one’s sukkah is a specific requirement for a sukkah, and Rabbi Meir might very well make an exception to his leniency when one fails to uphold a rabbinic proscription that directly correlates to the observance of the law itself.

Meanwhile, the prohibition of sitting on an animal on yomtov applies to all festivals, not just Sukkot, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the validity of a sukkah. Rabbi Meir would not accept dismissing a Torah-mandated mitzvah on the basis of a general rabbinic restriction unrelated to that specific mitzva, and that is why he allows a sukkah to be used even if it is on an animal’s back, and even though that sukkah may not be used on the first days of the festival or during the intermediate Shabbat.

What I love most about this debate and discussion — and particularly about the Pri Megadim’s assertive stance — is the reverence it demonstrates for rabbinic law, which has been the backbone of Jewish identity since the dawn of Jewish nationhood.

Maimonides writes  that the Torah itself established the centrality of rabbinic input into Jewish law, with the verse (Deut. 17:11): לֹא תָסוּר מִן הַדָבָר אֲשֶר יַגִידוּ לְךָ יָמִין וּשְמֹאל — “you must not deviate from any word that they tell you, neither right nor left” (MT Neg. Mitzvot 312).

It is a fact that all those Jews who have favored relying purely on scripture as the source for Jewish law — such as the Sadducees, the Boethusians, and the Karaites — have long since evaporated as identifiable Jewish groups, having bound themselves up with an ossified and ultimately self-destructive form of Judaism that undermined any hope for their future.

Only Rabbinic Judaism, with its strong focus on a carefully managed evolutionary halachic system, has managed to sustain itself over millennia, bequeathing a living, breathing, dynamic Torah to each emerging generation, who have in turn handed it down to the next.

And so, as we sit in our sukkah this year, with a table firmly inside it for us to eat off, we would do well to reflect on the remarkable ancient tradition that we have been lucky enough to be born into.

Our identity as Jews only has meaning because of it.

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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in Uncategorized


The Dangerous “Day After” Yom Kippur

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by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

In one of his essays, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik questions why the sages decided to include an “irrelevant” portion in the Torah reading on Rosh Hashana, about how, after coming back from the “Akedath Yitschak” (the trial of the sacrifice of Yitschak), Avraham was told that Milkah, the wife of his brother Nachor, had given birth and that his second wife also gave birth to several children. (Bereshith 23:20-24) What is the reason for the inclusion of this portion on Rosh Hashana?

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that the sages included it so as to warn all Jews that even after such an overwhelming event as Akedath Yitschak, little, if anything, was learned from the event. After hearing from Avraham what had transpired, his family went back to their normal day-to-day life, as if nothing had happened. While the Akedah was, no doubt, one of the most crucial moments in man’s history, carrying enormous moral consequences for all mankind, even Avraham’s family did not really take notice.

Such could easily happen on the day after Yom Kippur. While this day often raises us to the highest level of spirituality, the “day after” may turn out to be just another day, in which nothing even reminds us that the day before was one of great moral and religious exultation.

Anywhere in the world, on the day after Yom Kippur, the synagogue service really should be a completely different experience from what people are used to. Yom Kippur should still be in the bones of all synagogue participants. Its spirit should still be felt with every prayer. It should be completely impossible for synagogue services to return to their old ways, in which prayers are  said as if “nothing happened.”The truth is that no prayer in the coming year could ever be the same. Anything else makes a mockery of Yom Kippur, the Ten Days of Repentance and the essential meaning of Teshuva, repentance.

That we do not try to implement a different and more spiritual synagogue service the “day after” is a major tragedy. We ought to be taking action to change this situation. Nothing is more dangerous in religious life than indifference.

Delving further, we discover a serious flaw in modern religious life. On some level, it seems that many of us do not fully believe in our prayers on the High Holidays. While crying to God hundreds of times on Yom Kippur that He is the only One, we seem to deny this fact the next day, when our prayers are, again, said out of habit. By saying that God is the only One, people express their absolute belief that God is the only real Power in this world and the Source of all life. This knowledge, after being forgotten over the last year, gets re-discovered and re-established on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It should bring about a transformation, wherein every human being should wake up. He or she should see everything in a different light for all of the next year. If such is not the case, then one’s life contradicts one’s beliefs. This is a serious matter. Even those who may not be so sure in their beliefs, but still go to synagogue because they believe that Judaism may carry the truth and that prayers may, after all, be of help, will have to realize that their prayers cannot be the same. Anything less is “the curse of religious agnosticism.”

All this reveals that in most cases, synagogue attendance is in serious trouble, and that the daily attendance of services is no longer an indication of serious religiosity. Even the observance of other religious observances, such as Shabbath and kashruth may no longer be the result of real religiosity. They may be nothing more than an expression of a traditional lifestyle, without true religiosity. While this surely has value, it is far from enough. Religious life should be devout—an upheaval. If it is not, it will ultimately disintegrate. “God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance,” said Abraham Joshua Heschel. This should wake up religious thinkers and leaders and make them realize that a different form of religious education is of the greatest necessity.

At the present time, the State of Israel finds itself in one of its most critical moments. Once more the existence of the Jewish State is at stake. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in many countries, and Jews will have to wake up and understand their responsibilities.

In these difficult days, synagogue services throughout the world should undergo a serious religious transformation. It is the obligation of every Rabbi or Rabbanit to do everything in their power to make this happen. If we do not, we have gravely violated our mission. At this time in Jewish history, no Jew can go on his way without feeling that she or he has come to a crossroad. All of us have to be careful that we are not guilty of lip service. Sure, it is a very difficult task but at least we should try our utmost.

If we do this, we will be able to enter our Succah and wave the lulav with the feeling that we really have accomplished something great, and that we are indeed fulfilling the commandment to be joyful on these days. “Joy is man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection”, said Spinoza. (Ethics, 3,defs. 2,3) And he’s right!

May all of us succeed, at least a little. Chag Sameach!

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Posted by on October 12, 2019 in Uncategorized